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BY JEFF FALK

FREDERICKSBURG – There aren’t too many things better than winning. But there’s only one thing worse than losing – not playing at all.

On a breezy Friday night at Fred Gahres Stadium, the Lebanon and Northern Lebanon football teams opened a season like never before, by celebrating the enjoyment of both competition and participation, and by emphasizing their collective love of the game. Their appreciation for the opportunity to play was almost as important as the outcome.

Almost.

When it finally came time to strap it up and tee it up, it was the Cedars, who were more ready to play. Lebanon parlayed a suffocating defense and a big-play offense into a 33-0 halftime lead, and ultimately a 39-7 victory.

The non-league contest, one of four season openers involving Lebanon County squads on this particular evening, had been pushed back some four weeks by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Not knowing if we were going to have a season was tough,” said Frank Isenberg, who also registered a win in his first game as Lebanon’s new head coach. “These kids worked hard for this. It’s just good playing football. It was just nice to be out on the field.”

“We were really glad just to have a game,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Roy Wall. “We were excited. First we were playing, and then we weren’t (because of the coronavirus).”

With senior quarterback Isaiah Rodriguez running for three scores and throwing for a fourth, Lebanon brought the mercy rule into play by scoring touchdowns on its five possessions of the season. The Cedar defense was just as impressive, bottling up the Vikings all night long and allowing Northern Lebanon just a single first down, which came late in the final quarter.

Rodriguez’s initial TD jaunt came 6:16 into the opening period and culminated an 11-play Lebanon possession. His second, a four-yard quarterback sneak, was set up by his 42-yard completion to speedster Alex Rufe, and it gave the Cedars a 12-0 with 55 seconds left in the first quarter.

“Isaiah was phenomenal,” said Isenberg. “He put the work in the weight room. He’s athletic, and he was moving around. He played exceptionally well. That connection he has with Alex is something special.

“I wanted to make sure our kids started off fast,” added Isenberg. “That fast start was the key.”

“We just didn’t get anything going,” said Wall. “We lost yardage on our first two series. They (the Cedars) took away our passing game and made us run the ball.”

The Cedars began to pull away in the second quarter. Rodriguez’s run to the left pylon on a fourth-and-goal from the 23-yard line pushed the Lebanon lead to 18-0, and really seemed to give the Cedars a lift.

Four minutes later, Rodriguez hooked up with Rufe on a 34-yard post route in the middle of the field to make it a 26-0 Lebanon lead. Lebanon also scored 49 seconds before the break, when Matt Brown ran it in from three yards out, after a nifty Rufe return of a punt.

“Defensively, we came and rallied to the football,” said Isenberg. “We preached it at practice. They (his players) knew the execution scheme. Our front six or eight is a veteran group. They’re experienced and good football players. They set the tone for us.”

“We thought we could hang with them,” said Wall. “We had so many errors. But their defense dominated us up front. We were very undisciplined. Give Lebanon credit, but we didn’t make it very tough for them.”

Rodriguez threw his second touchdown of the evening to Rufe 2:16 into the second half.

Northern Lebanon averted the shutout with 2:38 remaining, when Grady Stichler scored on a one-yard plunge. Stichler’s touchdown came on the heels of Conor Leonard’s 80-yard run.

“Coach Wall is a good coach,” said Isenberg. “They have a young roster. They’ll do well in Section Four (of the Lancaster-Lebanon League).”

“Lebanon beat us in all phases of the game,” said Wall. “We’ve had enough moral victories around here over the last two years. We play to win the game. That’s why you keep score. We’re a relatively young team. But we’re not saying it’s OK, because it’s not.”

Lebanon’s dominance on the field was also reflected in the score sheet, as they outgained Northern Lebanon 381 total yards to 95. Rodriguez completed 19 of his 24 pass attempts for 230 yards through the air.

Rufe hauled in six aerials for 169 yards. The Vikings were whistled for 11 penalties.

“We have our goals, and one of them is to win the Section (Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League),” said Isenberg of an early-season showdown with Lampeter-Strasburg next week. “We, as a coaching staff, see it as a bigger game than the kids do, and that’s a good thing.”

To purchase images in this article email jkfalk2005@yahoo.com.

2020 Lebanon Football Schedule

DateOpponents
9/18
7:00 pm
Lebanon
at Northern Lebanon

Nonleague
9/25
7:00 pm
Lampeter-Strasburg
at Lebanon

League
10/02
7:00 pm
Lebanon
at Ephrata

League
10/09
7:00 pm
Garden Spot
at Lebanon

League
10/16
7:00 pm
Lebanon
at Lancaster Catholic

League
10/23
7:00 pm
Donegal
at Lebanon

League
10/30
7:00 pm
Lebanon
at Octorara

Nonleague

2020 Northern Lebanon Football Schedule

DateOpponents
9/18
7:00 pm
Lebanon
at Northern Lebanon

Nonleague
9/25
7:00 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Octorara

League
10/02
7:00 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Annville-Cleona

League
10/09
7:00 pm
Columbia
at Northern Lebanon

League
10/16
7:00 pm
Elco
at Northern Lebanon

League
10/23
7:00 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Pequea Valley

League
10/30
7:00 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Lampeter-Strasburg

Nonleague

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